Apple's Desktop Computer Cases Suck

by David Brickner

I have two G4 towers and several beige box PCs sitting in a spare office. The towers sit on display on top of a desk, and several times a week a curious passerby will ask me what I plan on doing with those machines. I can see the gleam in their eye as they begin to mentally drool at the thought of having one of those sleek boxes sitting on their desk. The PCs are all stacked and sitting under the desk. No one ever asks about those. I guess they aren't pretty enough.

The two towers take up the same cubic space as four PCs. I can't stack them or lay them on their sides. I can't place them on a narrow shelf (too tall) and they must be balanced carefully if stored upon wire shelving (convenient carrying handles fall between wires). Though the cases can be easily opened and PCI cards exchanged, have you tried to replace the built in DVD drive? Difficult.

Look at the trend in corporate desktop PCs, it is to smaller integrated devices. I could put ten small form factor (SFF) PCs in the same space as these two towers. The SFF PCs will fit under or beside a monitor, and could even be mounted on the under side of a desk. Sure, you could claim that the iMac is a small machine, but is it stackable? Can I store dozens of iMacs on a computer room floor without fear of cracked LCD panels or broken swing arms? Can I carry more than two of them at a time?

If Apple has an interest in the corporate desktop market they need to produce a machine that fits the needs of that market. As a system administrator I want computers that store easily, don't get scratched, have parts I can easily interchange, are easy to carry by the armful, can be deployed in a variety of environments, and finally, I need computers that aren't so sleek that all my users are fighting over who gets the prettiest one.

Should Apple make this mythical corporate desktop it needs to be much cheaper than the current G4 tower. Not only can I fit ten SFF computers in the space of two G4 towers, I can purchase all ten at the same cost.

Is Apple the Honda of the computer world? Building innovative machines, but lacking the diversity of models to be the next Dell?


2003-04-17 21:48:45
Dude, you need to get yourself stackable machines..
2003-04-18 02:09:29
probably a bit overblown for desktop use
2003-04-18 02:26:13
Small form factor
The cube was just the small form factor you were looking for. Alas its not easy to work on and has a limited upgrade path. It also flopped like pancakes at IHOP.
2003-04-18 04:56:41
poor title choice
That's a very open-ended title for an article about what is a niche market for Macs.

Was "I want Apple to design for commodity buyers, who won't pay a premium for research or design and have no vendor loyalty, rather than their core customer base" too long?

Why don't you ask them to port OS X to x86 and kill two birds with one stone?

NB If you're merely trolling the Apple faithful with infuriating slurs I should warn you that John C Dvorak has a patent on that method of generating website hits.

2003-04-18 05:23:16
Small form factor
The Cubes were pretty neat little machines that were priced out of their market niche. What was the introductory price on one? $1,800?

Compare that to the current crop of cool looking SFF machines from Shuttle, where a complete system can be built for between $350 and $600 depending upon options.

Upgradeability in a corporate desktop is surprisingly...unneeded. It is a rare occurance that I have needed to upgrade a processor, hard drive, video or sound card. Memory is usually upgraded at least once, and if the hard drive is full a good sys admin will kindly suggest that the user do something about the 8GB of .mp3 files on the disk. Corporate desktops are purchased (or leased) and run for 3-5 years then get replaced. Most of them currently come with specs way overblown for the uses they are put to.

Home machines for people comfortable with computer hardware cannot have enough upgrade options as these people will willingly spend a Saturday afternoon and $300 replacing a motherboard and processor in order to kick things up a notch.

2003-04-18 05:40:15
New PowerMac prediction
I'm betting that the next generation of the PowerMac has styling similar to the Xserve. I've never liked the designs you are complaining about: too much wasted plastic swirls. But remember, that was what notebooks looked like three years ago. Now Apple notebooks are sleek, functional beauties. Style-wise, I'm sure Apple won't miss a trick, and we can expect minimal, practical, but beautiful machines in the near future.
2003-04-18 06:40:12
Replacing the built in optical drive is EASY!
Dode! The front cover pops off, you remove two screws and three cables, and slide the drive out! Takes less then 3 minutes! I just upgraded my daughters G4 to a DVD-R drive!
2003-04-18 07:29:48
I think Dave's just a whiner!
Check out Dave's Bio....complaining is in his blood!

David Brickner is the system administrator responsible for the Windows and Macintosh desktops and servers in the Cambridge, MA office of O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. A transplant from Tennessee, David finds the most annoying aspects of Boston are that there aren't enough parking spaces and that Outback Steakhouse is 5 miles away, but a 30 minute drive.

Personally I love the way my G4 looks and I not alone. Its won a lot of awards!

2003-04-18 07:56:10
Honda is the next Dell???
Nope, Apple builds sports cars. Stylish and sexy, more expensive, and less mainstream than a basic econobox Civic.

But if you insist on mixing your metaphors, I guess that's just the way the cookie bounces.

2003-04-18 07:57:17
Uh... you have non-sleek computers
"and finally, I need computers that aren't so sleek that all my users are fighting over who gets the prettiest one"

Uh... those would be... the PCs under your desk?

2003-04-18 07:58:32
If you are looking for a stackable computer, get the XServe. I can't imagine why anybody would need to stack computers at their desk. If you are looking for a space-saving desktop design, the iMac is great; no looking under the desk to eject CDs or plug stuff in. If you want a desktop with lots of PCI slots and easy access to them, get the G4 towers. Most smaller PCs have less expansion space inside. If you need something to stack in a computer room, I'd assume you'd be thinking "server" so get the 1U xserve and put it in a rack. This article is kind of silly, don't you think?
2003-04-18 08:01:22
Needs of the market = needs of the users
Seems you already have boring beige stackable SFM boxes.

And yet the users seem to want more.
They don't comment on the boxes under the table, but seem to drool over the "sleek" (yet suck??) macs.

I'd say it's you who isn't catering to the market, your own users.

2003-04-18 08:02:07
Needed: Ports on Front
Apple makes their products pleasing to look at. No consideration for utility:

- in order to get more traction for the "Digital Hub", Apple had better get a few ports that are accessible from the front - either on the computer or the display. The USB ports on their displays are a start, but how about: audio, FireWire

- agree on upgrades; sure the current towers are easy to open and upgrade, but just how often does one need to do that?

Just once, I'd like to see Steve or Phil walk up to their demo station and hook up the iPod or their camcorder to a G4 desktop without strategically placed and rearranged "extension cables". Can you imagine either of them fumbling around the back of their Macs?

And don't get me started on "...just get a hub, you jerk...". As Apple's release of 10.2.5 recently showed, you can never be sure if your hub will work.

Anyway, just sign me:

"Anxiously awaiting a Macintosh with accessible ports"

PS You can also sign me as an SFF fan. Imagine a Mac like the Shuttle SFF boxes! Somehow shuttle figured out how to get ports on the fron and back, as well as room for two PCI slots. See

2003-04-18 08:26:00
What do you mean, can't put it sideways?
All you need is the clips for the superdriver to retain, our gank the superdriver for a lesser cdrom, and stick the superdrive in an external firewire case. A solid, 2RU shelf with front/rear mounts holds a G4 nicely, if it wobbles too much for your liking shim up the sides. It's faster, easier, and cheaper than anyone's rackmount solution I've ever seen.
2003-04-18 08:26:32
Replacing the built in optical drive is EASY!
You're right, the drive itself removes easily. But, to fully troubleshoot the problem I was having, I needed to replace the IDE cable. That thing is taped down and tucked through some pretty narrow openings.
2003-04-18 08:40:34
Honda innovates, I'm told Apple does too.
I realized that when I made that comparison not everyone would think of Honda the way I do.

Honda builds very innovative or forward thinking cars. Numerous times they have won technical awards for their creation. Vtech technology, CVT transmissions, I forget the name but a 70's technology that burned leaded gas cleaner than unleaded, 4 wheel steering, Active Torque Transfer system, hybrid electric vehicles, and probably other things I know nothing about.

To some people Honda builds econobox cars, to other people they build insanely great cars that are slightly pricier than their competition (Ford Focus for the Civic) but worth the extra expense.

However, Honda has not traditionally had a very deep line. They had one econo car, one mid-size car, and a sporty Prelude model. They have added an SUV and a mini-van. It is hard to compete with GM with their diverse line if you want to capture a really large portion of the market.

Apple, to me, is somewhat similar. The build wonderful looking machines, with innovative designs (the recent iMac, the Cube), pushing forward technology like USB and firewire. But, they aren't diversified enough to really take the market by storm. One market they are missing is the corporate desktop, because they don't build an affordable machine that is small enough to store away in large quantities (you always need spares or will store items before a big deployment), or small enough to work in a variety of situations where work space is a tight.

I'm saying that Honda couldn't make a dent in the mini-van market until they actually released a mini-van. Well, Apple will not make a dent in the corporate desktop market until they release a corporate desktop computer, and the current G4 tower and iMac LCD don't cut it. OS X is there, it could take market share from Windows, but the hardware is not what a corporation really wants to deploy in large numbers. Just my opinion.

2003-04-18 08:45:26
What do you mean, can't put it sideways?
I'm not talking about rack mounting the cases. We have a rack mounted G3 that serves as our file server for our Design group. I'm talking about instances where I need to store many of these machines and I might need to stack them. The beatiful sides are rounded and do not stack nicely, not to mention the fact that they are easily scratched.
2003-04-18 08:51:54
I don't want to stack computers at my desk. I want to stack computers that I need to put in storage or that I am in the process of deploying (large numbers). Corporations keep large numbers of spares, or boxes waiting to be deployed, or redeployed, and they need to store them somewhere with a minimal of space. The traditional PC desktop, and now the SFF machines, do this nicely. The old beige G3s stacked nicely.

The XServe is similar to what I want, only it needs to be cheaper and not 28" deep. Something it won't achieve right now because it is a server, not a desktop machine.

I don't know if the article is silly. I say that Mac OS X could be used as a desktop OS for hundreds of millions of average office workers world-wide and that one of things holding it back is the hardware. Corporations want smaller cheaper boxes. I would think Apple would be interested in that market.

2003-04-18 09:18:49
Xserver is stacking 10 pc cases like this article describes.

Use the correct tool for the job. If you need computers that need to have a small form factor, and need to be stackable, go with a rack, otherwise, in the long run you WILL spend more money on maintence alone.

2003-04-18 09:31:19
Replacing the built in optical drive is EASY!
No, to troubleshoot the problem, you needed to try out a different IDE cable. That only required your unplugging the taped down cable from both ends and plugging the new IDE cable in, letting it lie loose in the case until you determine if the factory one is actually faulty.

Fastened cables is a good thing. I'm guessing you didn't have to replace it, right? And if you *did* have to replace it, you wouldn't unroute it from those narrow openings, you'd instead cut the cable in half and strip it out from each end. No fuss, no muss, no need to be ginger with a cable you've decided is faulty.

Look, the inside of that box is awesome. Your points on it's exterior are valid.


2003-04-18 10:38:03
You're right
2003-04-18 11:17:02
how moronic
How pathetic would the world be if manufacturers decided to make a computer based upon the needs of a lazy sys admin instead of the end user. Remember the cube? The public didn't want tiny. If you're not the end user, it's not up to you. No manufacturer with any sense is going to make systems for the convenience of shoving into a closet. There's a legitimate reason people want those machines, and it's not your place to put a machine down for fulfilling the needs of its users. You want rack machines? Get Xserves. Yes, Macs used to have short and long form configurations, but the short forms are a pain for end users to modify. There's a reason that the engineers design these cases the way they do. They're not made to sit around unused.
2003-04-18 11:34:49
Honda innovates, I'm told Apple does too.
That Tech from Honda in the early 70's was called CVCC, the grandmother of VTech.

It's amazing what more valves per cylinder do for burning gas!

Ever consider dropping the desktop box for laptops?

2003-04-18 13:50:28
The arrogance of system administrators
This log reminded me of a Mathematics department Professor, who also administered and managed the department's computer network. A few years ago, he decided that Macs were as appropriate for his department as fridges. This was when the blue G3s came out. According to his aesthetic and technical views, no power user should consider such 'toys'. Most colleagues had little patience with this comment. One even rushed to buy one such 'toy'. They were the users and would not put up with the narrow view of the Unix geek wanting to control their daily computing practices. Apple has been showing for many years respect for its customers, producing innovative and friendly computers. Some years ago they released Mac OS X and last year the XServe, excelent products for the enterprise sector. Unfortunately, at the enterprise decisions are often done by managers and administrators who don't take the user viewpoint (i.e. the employees) very seriously.
2003-04-18 15:27:41
Isn't it a joke ?
This is not April 1st but this log definitely sounds like a joke...

Just have a look at :

2003-04-18 17:51:30
Auto Industry Analogy for Apple?: VW for the big picture
Heh- Volkswagen seems the best analogy to Apple and the PC market for me.

"The Apple II was the VW Beatle of personal computers..."
VW Bus: Mac Classic line
Watercooled generation: 68040 to PowerPC
iMac: New Beetle
G4 Tower: New VW Passatt/Audi A4 VW has caught up with Apple's pricing strategy..and not sure if Trucks of SUV's matter. ;-)

2003-04-18 21:47:02
Small form factor
>Upgradeability in a corporate desktop is
>surprisingly...unneeded. It is a rare occurance that I have
>needed to upgrade a processor, hard drive, video or

Right you are. You would rather pay $500 a machine every few years and toss it than spend $1500 for a machine that will last three times as long. I see the secretaries at *unnamed workplace* get a brand new, top of the line ($3000+) machine every three years while the engineers have to pay for their own through salary packaging.

Turns out 36 months is the ammortization period on a computer provided by the IRS. Can't ammortize time to install a new hard drive.

2003-04-18 21:48:50
Small form factor
>Upgradeability in a corporate desktop is
>surprisingly...unneeded. It is a rare occurance that I have
>needed to upgrade a processor, hard drive, video or

Right you are. You would rather pay $500 a machine every few years and toss it than spend $1500 for a machine that will last three times as long. I see the secretaries at *unnamed workplace* get a brand new, top of the line ($3000+) machine every three years while the engineers have to pay for their own through salary packaging.

Turns out 36 months is the ammortization period on a computer provided by the IRS. Can't ammortize time to install a new hard drive.

Andrew W. Hill

2003-04-19 05:18:14
Ugly computers - no thanks
No wonder hardware companies still churn out ugly beige (or black) boxes. However, I decided to get an iMac after years of PC/Windows use in part because I wanted something that looks good sitting on my desk. I recently redecorated my office and putting an ugly beige box there would have ruined everything.
2003-04-19 06:43:50
A silly point from a lazy sysadm
Apple make functional and stylish computers for people to use and enjoy, not for you to store them like junks. By your own admission, users prefer the prettier Mac to the uglier PC, so what's your point?

How often does a Mac end up in a dusty room waiting to be deployed, once or twice in 5 years? Are you seriously suggesting that Apple should compromise the design elegance just for the 0.1% probability?

If you really want to stack them up, put them inside boxes, for God's sake.

2003-04-19 07:34:22
Did you ever think of keeping them in their boxes? Easy to stack, and no scratches.


2003-04-19 10:40:54
you're completely beside the point Apple has been niche-ing for years, they're not made, nor intended, to be stacked away or used on every single desk in a large company. I'd even go as far as asking what you smoke for wanting to stack iMacs on a floor, it's a consumer machine meant for a home desk or school lab, not clustering nodes or for deploying network services, nor is it a file sharing server or whatever, it's a client-end device (hell, one would think you'd buy something a bit cheaper to hide them away in a room that way). It's like wanting to use a Mercedes berline to transport contruction material. Remember the old saying, form [should] follows function.
2003-04-19 22:57:36
Apple's Desktop Computer Cases Suck
Apparently its possible to completely remove the plastic shells from around the towers and one ends up with two polished steel towers that are able to be stacked, although you may need to put some rubber feet on the bases of the towers,

These polished steel cases look quite sexy in themselves.

I often wisht I could lay my tower flat of course one can if one secures the internal drives and uses an external cd/whatever drive !

2003-04-20 09:56:28
Mac Boxes
Can't wait for Apple to run on PCs - be able to get some speed for less money. And/or can't wait for MPEG-4 advanced profile encoders and decoders running on Linux. Then good-bye Apple period.
2003-04-20 10:46:51
Apple Cases
Nobend or what ? How long does it take to open a G4 case to upgrade RAM for instance ? At least you don't "physically" have to take the box apart as is the case with most pc boxes. Even Dell's clamshell design is good, well for a pc, but you still need two pairs of hands if the one catches doesn't quite release properly.
2003-04-20 12:50:18
The Keys!!! We need real keys!!! What a bad design!
We need keys we can use for deleting real text on real paper. The rubber keys of our good old ZX Spectrum. How can Apple design a keyboard without them? Bad design I would say. Just imagine you want to erase the secret phone number of your secret girl friends' from your notepad and no rubber in sight! You can't even use your keys having a Mac! With the ZX Spectrum - no problem. Really, with such ideas Apple is about to die a slow, painful death. No rubber keyboard, sheesh....
2003-04-20 17:38:12
Hardware's the problem?
At our studio we use G4 towers, B&W G3's, iMacs, and every kind of SGI box you can imagine, plus lots of generic Linux boxes. We've got about 300 employees, most have two computers at their desk: a G4 and an SGI Unix box. This is not counting our rack-mounted servers.

The machines not being used or in rotation are stacked on the floor or on wire shelves and the only way a G4 tower would have a problem on a wire shelf is sitting there trying to balance by itself--not when they are packed like sardines.

Apple makes a pretty computer, but we could care less how scratched they get--they're workhorses sitting under a desk.

As for expansion, it takes about 2 minutes to pull a DVD drive out of a G4 tower--I can't see any way it would take longer.

Lastly, this is the first time I have ever heard the argument that the corporate world would be using Macs if the hardware were different.
Anyone using a large number of PC's is usually running Microsoft OS's and software, so I can't see how there would be any fighting over who gets the PC or the Mac--the two would probably be used for different applications.

I think this guy was just having a bad day...

2003-04-20 17:51:57
Corporate Market--U R kidding, right?
Apple doesn't have any inyerest in the corporate market. They haven't for a loooong time. They've realized they are a niche product and design their computers as such. I mean, they tout themselves as a consumer machine, NOT a business machine. Why do you guys even have Macs? Are you running some Mac-only software or something?

Geez, dude, make your life easier: Phase out the G4's and take them off your desk so people will quit pestering you about 'em. Do we have to think of EVERYTHING?

2003-04-20 20:32:40
too much time on your hands?
bah! what a horrible blog. I agree with the other posters that you are whining.
2003-04-21 05:10:18
Get your ass out of here, your troll
So what's Xserve and Xserve RAID are for?
2003-04-21 20:38:01
Get your ass out of here, your troll
Yeah, that's true, but I'm talking about the desktops people use in most of corporate America, not servers.

This guy's "stacking" problems have nothing to do with "functioning computers" or servers. He's talking/whining about storing them when they are not in use.

2003-04-22 01:49:06
It needs a widget !
Apple have obviously missed out on another marketing opportunity - a piece of beautifully crafted (designed by Porsche obviously) plastique that will seemlessly interlock two equally beautifully sculpted boxes. I understand that the price of nearly $300 for this widget is justified by the sealed-in neon-glo tubes in a wide variety of colors (powered from a spare USB port)..
2003-04-24 05:43:18
Have PC, can write...
Haven't you got anything better to worry about? Reading stuff like this sucks. What a waste of time!
2003-05-03 21:33:01
Apple tried....
It was called the Cube.... and no one bought it.

Talk about a small form factor! And it presented something no PC manufacturerwill present... beauty. Forget about it... Steve-O already tried it and it bit him in the buttocks. I don't EVER expect to see Apple follow up on this suggestion again... not while Steve-O is still on the Job(s).

Phillip Swindall

2003-05-05 13:07:14
I think Dave's just a whiner!
I think Apple is the Ford Focus of computers. Looks good on the outside, but underneath it's really an Escort. An Escort wagon. A maroon one.

I'll stick to Hondas.


2003-05-28 20:54:56
I think Dave's just a whiner!
Hey Bil! Haven't heard from you in a long time. Give me a call sometime soon. Call the main O'Reilly number and they'll get you in touch with me.


2003-07-08 07:09:03
Macs simply arent for the corporate market
1) Apple computers are not cost effective. I can get to good PC's for the same price as a mac. Programs such as Photoshop, Flash, and others, are much more expensive when purchased for an OSX rather than a windows OS. When you are dealing with say just 100 computer using individuals within your company, your best bet is the PC (usually Dell, which is very cost efficient). Why? Compare the prices from the comp, on down to the OS and the programes you will need. The difference is vast.

As a network administrator/systems administrator... why would I care about appearances of a computer? It is not a concern, and nor should it be when considering the purchase of a computer. Yes Apple makes sleek looking computers, but that sleek computer is much more expensive and does nothing more than the PC but look pretty.

I dont believe Apple is concerned with the corporate market. Like someone said... they do have a niche they are filling. Recently there was a big to do concerning some of the developers and designers in the office who were wanting macs. All I had to do was show them the difference in price... and the execs said heck no to them.

Apple does make some good computers that I wont argue with, but until they change there price set and their very mind set on what corner of the market they want to maintain they wont be going anywhere soon. Sides... doesnt really matter... since this is a windows world we live in... RESISTANCE IS FUTILE! YOU WILL BE ASSIMILITATED!


2003-11-28 22:26:53
Xserver You Moron
What a dolt! Apple makes a rack server that will fit twice as many units than the PCs he's getting so wet over . . . that is if cramming maximum units in one place is the objective.

And what do we call computers bunched together like this and what are they usually for boys and girls? Rack-mounted servers. What an idiot!


2005-04-04 22:58:37
Working on Macs
I have worked on a lot of stupid computer case designs and Apple Power PC's certainly win the prize for worst design. Of course Apple obviously did not want people monkeying around in there. They would much prefer that Apple does the work and charges accordingly. Well, happily this is no longer the case but there are still design flaws.

As far as worst PC designs I vote overwhelming for Compaq. I am continually astounded by the terrible case designs their engineers dreamed up. For example one desktop, I think it was a presario but a steel bar in the middle of the motherboard to support the case but the slot they left for the IDE cable was so small that only one cable would fit through the slot, effectively destroying the other IDE connection. At least I could get in to the case though. Other Compaq's would not allow this without ruining the case.

They still don't beat Apple Power PC's though. Once I had to literally tear three computers apart to rescue the good components in the machines. It being far too time consuming to try to figure out that mess.